The Duke of Windsor, Style Icon

I love the late Duke of Windsor (1894-1972). Would that he could have remained King Edward VIII. In the Cantos, Ezra Pound called him a “fanatic for peace,” writing of “the three years peace we owe Windsor ’36-’39.” Edward presented a formidable obstacle to the bipartisan war party, which existed then as now. But in this fallen world no good deed goes unpunished so he was forced to abdicate in a coup d’état and smeared as a Nazi sympathizer (much like Charles Lindbergh in America) though he was nothing of the sort. In his memoir, A King’s Story, Edward wrote, “Intuitively I felt, that another great war in Europe was all too probable; and I saw all too clearly that it could only bring needless human suffering and a resurgent Bolshevism pouring into the vacuum of a ravaged and exhausted continent.” And so it did.

If Edward had remained on the throne we would still have the glorious Queen Elizabeth II (Edward had no children), but she might have kept her empire. Instead he lived out his days as the Duke of Windsor, in tactful exile, as a colonial governor and socialite. Looking back on his life in 1947, Edward wrote,

At 56 a man is not inclined to consider himself old. Yet, to a generation that takes for granted nuclear fission, radar, television, psychiatry, and God knows what else, somebody who was dandled on Queen Victoria’s knee must appear as an old fogey, a relic to be classed with square-rigged ships, kerosene lamps, and the Prince Albert coat. Indeed when I add up all that has overtaken mankind since my birth, I feel as if I have been travelling through history in a time machine.

It is a touching and rather wonderful passage from a man who was always the epitome of style. As Prince of Wales in the 1920s he was the idol of the youth—a sort of Wodehousian terror who eschewed formality, listened to jazz, spoke with an affected American accent, and dressed audaciously. He knew the rules of fashion inside and out and broke them like an expert. In my opinion the Duke of Windsor was the all-time best dressed man; he must certainly be counted among the top three, with Fred Astaire and Cary Grant.

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